Where the Magic Happens

Behind the Scenes 1

There is something magical about Theatre. About the anticipation as the lights dim and silence decends. That expectant hush; the audience sitting in a charged space waiting for the lights and music, the performers and settings, to transport them into another world. 

Today, however, we are going behind the scenes to where the real magic happens. 

This is journey behind the safety curtain and proscenium; behind the red velvet tabs and onto a bare, black stage, with the shadowy silhouette of an unlit set, looking spectral in the single beam from the ghost light. 

We move silently into the wings, past the prompt corner and behind the set, sandbags weighting down the struts on the flats to hold them in place. Costume rails are ready for quick changes and the props tables laid out, waiting. There is a creaking from the rig as the lights cool and mice scurry across the fly floor, taking advantage of this still moment before the magic returns. 

The actors, singers and dancers Sophie worked with … knew that without the scenery, the costumes and lights they would be standing naked on an empty stage in the dark. There would be no show. 

Sophie Wilde. Divas, Dogs and Dreamers

This was also my experience of theatre. A creative backstage crew make the show happen; all of them involved in lighting, sound, wardrobe, scenery and stage management. 

So what do they all do? 

Let’s start with Sophie Wilde and her role in the wardrobe department as a wardrobe assistant, and dresser for Diva, Callandra Jewell.

The Wardrobe Department

Through a pass door from the stage is a labyrinth of backstage corridors where the dressing rooms are and the wardrobe department thrives at the heart of it …  

In large theatres, the wardrobe department is divided into Costume Making, Running the Wardrobe and a Buying Department. They may also have, or outsource, a Dye Shop, Costume Hire, Wigs, Hair and Make Up. But in smaller theatres, these boundaries are blurred and many of the wardrobe departments I knew on tour were smaller and provided a warm, comforting hub of tea, sympathy and gossip.

The wardrobe department was affectionately known as Gossip Central. During a costume fitting, where people were often naked or semi-clad, they often bared their soul as well as their bodies. She knew that confidences were fragile things and damage could easily be done.

Sophie Wilde. Divas, Dogs and Dreamers

Both Cruz and Sophie work in Running the Wardrobe. Cruz is a Wardrobe Manager in a West End Theatre, and as such, he has responsibility for hiring the dressers and assistants who run the shows. Sophie is a best mate. She is also one of his team and he persuades her to take the job she is offered by Alex Brooke, even though it means going on tour with Callandra Jewell. 

As a wardrobe assistant Sophie would coordinate with wardrobe staff and assist to make and complete costumes. She would assist in the preparation of costumes and make small alterations when required. She would also be responsible for ensuring quality checks on all costumes prior to the show and make sure that everything was clean and in good order.

In order to work in the wardrobe department, Sophie would need a unique set of skills:

She would need to have a basic knowledge of modern and period costume construction and be competent in the use of sewing machines and over-lockers. She would also need a basic knowledge of hand stitching for finishing costumes, and a knowledge of the properties and uses of different fabrics. In addition, she would need to know how to clean and press different fabrics and care for Callandra’s elaborate gowns.

So, Sophie’s main tasks on tour would be to maintain Callandra’s costumes and make sure that her quick-change costume rail had all the costumes in the right order and all of the accessories to go with them. She would also perform regular ironing, washing and dry-cleaning duties, which is why she refers to herself as The Knicker Washer.

But Sophie also knows that the role is not just to make and mend. Because what Alex Brooke is asking her to do is a bit different; in this case, Sophie is also hired as Callandra’s minder. Sophie’s experience of dealing with an alcoholic means that her value to Alex Brooke is to …

‘…. keep Callandra sober and get her on stage, be her friend and assistant; whatever is needed.’ Sophie had worked in enough Wardrobe departments to know how to hold fragile performers together.

Alex Brooke

So next time you go to the theatre, check out the amazing work done by the wardrobe team. Even in a modern production, everything an actor is wearing on that stage has been carefully designed, made or bought, and is looked after by a backstage team.

Or you can see a similar magic happening on telly. I love watching Strictly Come Dancing on the telly. Not only because there are some superb dancers in it, but also because of the ‘production values.’ The Lighting and sound; the staging and visual effects; but above all, the awesome costumes!

Coming soon – tales from behind the scenes ….

‘I should be thanking all of you. Here’s to the best crew this side of the Atlantic!’ 

Producer Alex Brooke. Divas, Dogs and Dreamers


Published by Anita Belli

Author and Creative Writing Tutor. Novels: Divas, Dogs & Dreamers. Once Upon A Blue Moon. Ruby Sixpence Whistles Up A Storm. The Traveller & The Rose. The Art Forger's Daughter. Non-Fiction: How to be An Author in the Classroom. Write Your Life. Kickstart Your Writing. Unlock The Block. For Children: A Month of Writing Adventure

2 thoughts on “Where the Magic Happens

  1. This is fascinating Anita. I got goosebumps as you took me backstage. What a marvelous job it must be to work as a wardrobe assistant. If I hadn’t already read Divas Dogs and Dreamers and absolutely loved it – then the references here would make me want to read.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Deborah. I think being backstage is always more interesting than being out front. And I find it difficult to watch a show without imagining what is going on behind the scenes!


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